High net worth individuals warned over risks of new register

08 Feb 2018

A register listing the beneficial owners of every UK residential property could leave HNWIs in danger from fraudsters and criminals, experts warn.  The register, to be introduced in 2021, is part of the UK government’s aim to increase transparency in the UK residential property market – and to help stop UK property being bought from the proceeds of crime.

However, there are serious implications for the law-abiding high net worth individual who owns UK property as part of their portfolio. Currently, they can legitimately hold property through companies, thus keeping their personal details confidential. But the register will show the names of the owners. As it will be publicly available, it could be a security risk for the wealthy and well-known as anyone will be able to find the location of their UK homes. That is not all. The personal details on the register could be of great use to would-be conmen intent on identity theft.

Disquiet about public registers has been expressed in parliament too. Recently the House of Lords voted against bringing in similar registers for six overseas territories – the rules only demand one for UK residential property. The official Hansard record shows that in the debate Lord Flight, a commissioner of the Guernsey Financial Services Commission and director of Investec was vocal in his criticism.

Robert Burchett-Coates, ZEDRA director London, said, “It is interesting to note that law enforcement agencies do not support public registers, particularly in such territories, as they do not improve law enforcement capabilities”. Lord Flight added that tax authorities also don’t support public registers “as people report less candidly than when information is available only to public authorities” and expressed his concern that such a register could “facilitate identity theft”.